Baby Ruth – She Wasn’t Fat Enough

At Over 800 Pounds Baby Ruth Pontico Wanted To Be The First Woman To Weigh Half A Ton

She Didn’t Make It

Baby Ruth Pontico Ringling Bros Circus Fat Lady 1941 photo AP

A Big Baby

Weighing 16 pounds at birth does not necessarily mean you will become the Fat Lady of the circus. But during a time in history when people enjoyed staring at human oddities, its better to be paid for having people gawk at you.

Ruth Smith was born on February 8, 1902 in Kempton, Indiana. At age one her weight was fifty pounds. By age ten she was 300 pounds.

Ruth’s mother Ada Reese Smith surely had a lot to do with Ruth’s enormity, as mom weighed over 600 pounds and was a sideshow star known as the Human Blimp.

Not that Ruth wanted to follow her mother as a circus or sideshow performer. Ruth tried living a normal life despite being obese. Perhaps working in a candy factory as a teen was not a great career choice as Ruth  was allowed to eat all the candy she wanted for free as a perk. Ruth later became a stenographer in the 1920s. But her weight kept rising and eventually she followed mom into show business being displayed as a sideshow fat lady. She was given the embarrassing name of Ima Waddler, which Ruth later changed to Lady Beautiful and then settling on Baby Ruth.

Bigger Is Better

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus / sideshow signed Baby Ruth in 1931. While most people were struggling during the Great Depression to get a job and provide for their families, Ruth was making upwards of $300 per day. Ruth married Joe Pontico who ran the balloon concession at Madison Square Garden. The pair adopted a daughter Louise, and were by all accounts a happy family settling in Tampa, FL.. In the early 1930s Ruth and her mother (weighing 660 pounds) were appearing as a duo until the Ada;s death in 1933.

During Ruth’s career her weight was constantly inflated in circus advertisements. Ruth;s actual weight fluctuated between 400 – 500 pounds. But that didn’t stop promoters from adding a couple of hundred pounds to advertisements.

These exaggerations reportedly disturbed Ruth so she set out to correct the mislabeling, by gaining a few hundred pounds. With the exception of a bout of typhoid in 1934 which caused Ruth to lose over 200 pounds, Ruth had no problem putting on more weight. In the mid-1930s Ruth began a steady diet to add pounds and she succeeded on a grand scale becoming the fattest woman in the world. It was a title she was very proud of.

Baby Ruth with friends photo: Pix Magazine Nov. 19, 1938

A Goal: Become The First 1,000 Pound Woman

By April 1941 Ruth was working for Royal American Shows and tipped the scales at 815 pounds. When the show was leaving its winter quarters in Florida, Ruth had become so large she couldn’t get through the doors to her sleeping quarters on the train. Mechanics had to be called to widen the three foot door.  And yet, Ruth wasn’t done. Her longtime goal was to be the first woman to top 1,000 pounds.

An operation in April 1941 to remove excess skin from Ruth at Tampa Municipal Hospital had to be postponed when the hospital bed she was in collapsed and her pulse shot up.

In November 1941 the operation to remove a fatty tumor that had grown to the size of a football on the inside of her left thigh was completed. Unfortunately Ruth never awoke from the anesthesia and died of cardiac failure on November 29, 1941. She was just 39.

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